Amazing Scenes at Curtis Tappenden’s Circus Demo

Curtis Tappenden was our guest artist for the demonstration on June 28th. Or maybe that should be artiste?

Curtis started by explaining his lifelong addiction to the circus, from the days when they would come to town , or the field near his home, where he could lie awake listening to all the sounds at night. I have similar memories of a steam fair, hooting across the fields!

Demonstration started early, with Curtis doing some magic tricks to warm us up, before he skimmed over his own career (art teacher, newspaper artist – I always wondered who did those court sketches), then got onto the main event.

circus demo

His history of the circus was fascinating – some things I was familiar with, but some not. The European basis which then travelled to the States and worldwide was fascinating. ‘Acceptability’ of various acts has changed, including the issue of danger – it was not uncommon for performers to fall to their deaths in earlier times. And of course, animal acts are now banned in the UK, although still allowed in the US, I believe.

The names of all the big UK circuses were linked not to traditional circus families, on the whole, but to entrepreneurs who loved the circus but loved business more. Gerry Cottle, Billy Smart… all those guys worked out how to make the circus zing in the modern era of sponsorship and television.

Curtis Tappenden showed us not only the life in the ring, but the life outside it, and entertained us with many anecdotes, especially of mishaps when he was sitting in the front row, furiously scribbling away to capture the images in front of him!

He later created two demonstrations of how he works, always at speed, and usually flat (which caused some difficulty for the demo, as he tried an upright approach). It was fascinating to see how some washes on the paper, seemingly at random, could be built into a performer in the spotlight, or the entrance to the Big Top being put up.

If you missed this, you missed a good one (they are all good, of course). At present I’m still hoping for photos.

But the good news is that Curtis will be doing a workshop for us in spring, based on printing techniques. Watch for details.

Don’t forget to get your submissions in for the Summer Exhibition, and your application for space at HOS23, both due by the end of tis month!